Hi CNC peeps! I’m Chantelle, a certified health and lifestyle coach at Elemetta. As an old school CNC reader, I’m thrilled to write this guest post! Tina asked me to share some tips about veggie protein since she’s experimenting with eating more plant-powered meals. I’ve been vegetarian for 20 years and help people create healthy habits whether they’re paleo, vegan, or something in between.
There can be many reasons for wanting to eat less meat. Tina is hoping to decrease her UC symptoms, but maybe you have environmental concerns, or you just don’t like it anymore (that was my initial reason!) Regardless of the motivation, it can feel overwhelming and confusing. You’re scared you won’t get enough protein, and you don’t want to end up a “junk food vegan.” So, where do you start?
Let’s start at the very beginning… a very good place to start… (Sound of Music, anyone?)
The first question people always ask is “how do you get your protein if you’re not eating meat?”
When I started eating less chicken, pork and beef as a teenager, I was a cliché. I ate a lot of pasta, pizza, fries and garden salads – not best way to do it – but I’ve learned a lot since. The biggest thing is to include legumes, nuts, seeds, and some grains. And if you really love the flavor and texture of meat, you can get an imitation version of almost anything at this point…chorizo, bologna, chicken, ground beef, turkey, etc. However, those are very processed, so I don’t recommend getting the majority of your protein there. Those are more like a once or twice a week thing. But it doesn’t have to be complicated; here are some ways to get protein from real food sources:
Legumes are a group of veggies that includes lentils, beans, and peas, and are meatless protein-powerhouses (as well as full of fiber, vitamins and minerals!)
When exploring plant based proteins, I usually suggest that my clients start with lentils, which are small, round, easier to digest than beans, and high in iron. There are many kinds, but my favorites are green/brown lentils and beluga lentils. Green and brown lentils get slightly mushy when you cook them, so they’re perfect to substitute for meat in comfort foods like shepherd’s pie, sloppy joes, veggie burgers, and meatloaf. (To make it easier on you, I’ve compiled a few of these recipes on a cheat sheet.) Beluga lentils hold their shape when cooked, so they’re great as the main focus in dishes like lentil salad or lentil soup. And they’ve got a bit of shine so they’re more photogenic for Instagram 😉
Beans beans, they’re good for your heart, and I have some ideas to put in your cart! (I couldn’t write a post about beans and not include this, right?!) Beans are fantastic because you can use them in any meal, even dessert (chocolate-chocolate cookies!) People are afraid of beans because they can be gas and/or bloat-producing, but that improves with time and there are easy ways to speed that up or get rid of it altogether. Simply soak your dried beans overnight in water, then rinse well and cook in new/clean water. This makes it easier for your body to digest and absorb the minerals like iron and magnesium. Win-win!
There are so many kinds of beans, but I think the most popular are black beans, pinto, chickpeas, kidney, cannellini. When starting out, don’t overwhelm your system with a whole bowl of beans, like in a chili. Instead, use them as the secondary ingredient in the dish, like veggie tacos. Black beans and pinto beans go very well with Mexican flavors. Chickpeas are milder and go well with Mediterranean flavors like Greek salad and falafel. Cannellini, which are a type of white bean, are perfect in soup or orzo salad. Kidney beans are great added in soup or made into ‘meat’balls.
The easiest way to add more of these little guys into your life is by using the flavors and preparations you already know. Use what you love already, what’s familiar, and then swap out the meat for beans or lentils. Here’s some inspiration and ideas to get you going. Just a tip: don’t salt your beans or lentils while they’re cooking because they’ll end up hardening, and you don’t want that!
Bonus: beans and lentils are inexpensive! You’re saving money while you save the animals (even if that’s not your motivation, it’s a happy side effect). You can buy them from bulk bins in health food stores or from regular grocery stores and even at Target, you can get them in bags or cans. Just look for low sodium, BPA free cans if possible.
Peas are a commonly thought of as a fresh veggie, so most people don’t realize that they are legumes and have 8 grams of protein in every cup…don’t downplay the power of the plain ol’ pea!
Soybeans are a bit controversial; some say that soy has a negative effect on some cancers, other studies say it’s helpful in prevention. I say err on the side of caution and don’t make it an everyday thing (soy is usually the main ingredient in the faux-meats I mentioned earlier.) Soy comes in the form of edamame (young soybeans), tofu (also known as bean curd, it’s soy milk processed into a solid), tempeh (made from fermented soybeans), soy milk, and miso (fermented soy paste). Tofu is neutral on it’s own, so it absorbs whatever flavor you put on it. The secret to good tofu is to press out most of the water before you cook it so that it’s more firmer. Local tip: Garden Grille in Pawtucket, RI has amazing tofu bacon!
(I couldn’t do a post for CNC without including my pup, Roxy!)
Grains are probably already common on your plate, so I’m not getting into them at length here, but I do want to mention that pseudograins (they’re actually seeds) like quinoa, millet, and wild rice are great high protein options, and they’re gluten-free-friendly.
Speaking of seeds, they’re easy to throw into meals to amp up the protein punch with crunch! Popular seeds like pumpkin and sunflower are not just good for protein, but minerals like zinc, iron and vitamin E respectively. Hemp, ground flax and chia are great in breakfast and snack foods like smoothies or muffins because they don’t have overwhelming flavor, and they’re tiny! AND all of these seeds have a good dose of the holy grail of fats – omega 3’s.
Nuts are especially handy for protein on the go. Everyone’s pretty familiar with the biggies: almonds, cashews, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts…they’re all great for a good combo of protein and fat, with each variety offering different minerals. There’s a.few ways to eat ’em up: raw, roasted, butter or milk!
Regardless of your reason for wanting to eat less meat, remember that you have so many flavors and textures to try in the plant-powered world. Don’t deprive yourself – don’t skimp on herbs and seasonings! When you’re experimenting with new foods or a lifestyle change, it’s really helpful to focus on what you’re adding in vs. what you’re giving up. Our brains are programmed to crave pleasure over pain, and the pleasure of yummy bean tacos is preferable to the pain of not eating steak, so focus on the former!
So, that’s a high level snapshot of how you can keep your protein levels up while you dabble in meatless meals. To get started, check out my cheat sheets of recipes (including the chocolate cookies) and simple suggestions you can easily add into your life this week.
I’d love to connect with other CNC readers, so please reach out with any questions or if you’re curious about my coaching programs. And you don’t have to be vegetarian – some of my best friends are meat-lovers!
Question for you: What’s a dish you’d love to boost with plant-power (ie. vegetarianize)?